Upstream. A Mohawk Valley Blogzine.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

We Must Preserve Before We Can Promote The Valley's Beauty & History.

NOTE: This post was originally an opinion piece I wrote for The Sunday Gazette. It appeared on the Opinion Page on January 29, 2006.

The Mohawk Valley’s two prime assets are its history and its beauty and both are in jeopardy. Let’s start with its beauty. Poorly planned development has created eyesores along the river that detract from it and the surrounding valley. Three buildings, erected within the last decade, will suffice to prove my point.

The most egregious example is the Target Distribution Center on Route 5S in the Town of Florida. While beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, it would be difficult to find someone who finds any aesthetic value in this quarter mile long building squatting above the river and dominating the local landscape, its architecture apparently inspired by Brutalism or some archaic Soviet school of architecture. My son has appropriately dubbed it “the death star.”

Then there is Billy Fuccillo’s “huge” car lot on Route 5 near Nelliston, and not far beyond that is Logan’s giant salt storage shed that can be seen for miles in every direction.

The argument in support of this ugliness is that each of these businesses has boosted the local economy. I won’t disagree, but can’t we have our cake and eat it too. Why can’t we boost the local economy while requiring that such ugly structures be built farther away from the river or be better shielded from view.

There was a time when America’s rivers, including the Mohawk, were open sewers. No one wanted to live near them. It wasn’t uncommon to locate factories, junkyards, and oil storage tanks along them. That time has come and gone, but not everyone’s thinking has changed. Many still see rivers as places to dump things, if not in them, alongside them.

Meanwhile many of the Mohawk Valley’s historic sites, sites worth preserving for both their beauty and history, have disappeared or struggle to survive. Many Dutch barns have been dismantled and removed from the valley. Other barns, while not necessarily as historical as the 17th and 18th century Dutch barns, have been bought and shipped to Long Island and Connecticut where the timbers from as many as three barns go into the building of one multi-million dollar mansion.

Some historic buildings are in private hands and have not been taken care of. A once beautiful, historic brick house on Belldons Road in the Town of Florida has deteriorated to the point it is now the home of Turkey Buzzards. Butlersbury, built by they the notorious Tory Walter Butler in the Eighteenth Century and one of the most historic homes in the valley is in such bad condition it may not be salvageable.

Local groups of volunteers have worked hard for years to restore some local buildings, but with limited funds it has been very difficult. A good example of this is the Nellis Tavern near St. Johnsville which is owned by the non-profit Palatine Settlement Society. While the Tavern is in a lot better condition than it was twenty years ago, it still needs a great deal of work.

One would think that with the establishment of The Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor Commission (MVHCC) by the New York State Legislature in 1997 that the situation would have improved, but it hasn’t, even though the Commission’s web site states that the purpose of the commission is “to preserve and promote the natural, cultural and historic treasures of the Mohawk Valley. The commission encourages regional cooperation and facilitates partnerships using heritage tourism as a tool for enhancing the quality of life and economic development in the region.”

The problem with the MVHCC is that its emphasis has been on promotion rather than on preservation. Preservation should be the commission’s first priority because you cannot promote what does not get preserved. The commission has spent enough money over the past eight years to have preserved everything worth preserving in the valley.

I don’t want to be critical without offering solutions to the above problems. I recommend the following as a starting place. First, each of the counties in the Mohawk Valley should place a moratorium on building within a thousand feet of the river until policies can be put into place that would allow development along the river but would also preserve its beauty and history. Secondly, a complete list of buildings and sites in the valley worthy of preservation should be drawn up and steps taken to preserve them. Thirdly, a list of sites and buildings that need to be demolished, cleaned up or made to blend in better needs to be made up and steps taken to rectify these situations. Finally, some of the money given to The Mohawk Valley Heritage Commission needs to be earmarked for preserving our heritage not just promoting it, otherwise the commission might as well close its doors. If the beauty and history of the valley are destroyed, there will be nothing left to justify the commission’s existence.

2 Comments:

  • Wonderful essay. I've linked to it via my blog, http://mhnblog.blogspot.com.

    Joe Follansbee

    By Blogger Joe Follansbee, at 10:17 AM  

  • I agree, we need to preserve our historical treasures, and the MVHCC should be in the forefront on this. The aquaduct at Ft. Hunter is a gem but has been crumbling for years with one arch tumbling in the 90s. It is a very scenic sight and I used to bring visitors there when I lived in the area. It would be nice to at least stabilize what is left and restore the last arch that fell.

    By Blogger Strikeslip, at 10:28 PM  

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